Summary: Even our friends might let us down, but God never will.
GLORY IN THE MIDST OF SUFFERING
I. Suffering, and the Christian’s response to suffering, has been a recurring theme throughout Peter’s first letter. This is in keeping with the whole tenor of Scripture: ranging from the trials of patriarch, prophet and Psalmist - along with Israel of old - in the Old Testament; to the passion of Jesus, and the persecution of the church in the New Testament. It may come as a shock to the uninitiated, but the road into the kingdom of God is paved with tribulation (Acts 14:22).
Our reception of the Word of God is tested by suffering (1 Thessalonians 2:13-14). It is our privilege to be chastened as God’s sons (Deuteronomy 8:5; Hebrews 12:7). We share Job’s confidence in the result (Job 23:10).
Peter warns his “beloved” friends not to be alarmed at present and impending persecutions (1 Peter 4:12). They are neither strange nor unexpected. Our trials are the purifying fire by which the dross is burned out of our lives: the test of our faith (James 1:2-4).
Yet we are exhorted to rejoice (1 Peter 4:13) because our sufferings for Christ, in some mysterious way, join us to the suffering of Christ (Colossians 1:24). Thus we can understand Paul and Silas singing praises in prison at midnight (Acts 16:25) - and Paul’s subsequent exhortation to rejoice always, in all circumstances (Philippians 4:4). As we share in Christ’s sufferings (1 Peter 2:21), so we shall be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.
This overflow of joy is not only our future hope but, by the Spirit, our present reality (1 Peter 4:14). Christian suffering is a blessed exercise (Matthew 5:10-12), which carries its own consolation (2 Corinthians 1:5). Not only does suffering in the name of Christ lead us to glory, and give us tastes of glory on the way - it also gives glory to Him.
“Surely He scorns the scornful (literally ‘scoffs the scoffers’),
But gives grace to the humble.”
If we are to bring glory to our God then we must all, like Jesus washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:4-5) “bind on humility” (1 Peter 5:6). We must recognise the good hand of Providence in our attitude towards God, in our relationship with one another, and in our interaction with the world outside. We each need to submit with patience to our own particular cross in the sure knowledge that the hand which we so readily blame for oppressing us, is the same hand which will raise us up and exalt us “in due time.”
Do this, says Peter, having cast all your collective anxiety upon Him, because He cares about you all (1 Peter 5:7). David’s contemplation of a situation of hostility, betrayal and persecution led him to the conclusion that when we cast our burden upon the Lord, He does take care of us (Psalm 55:22). Even our friends might let us down, but God never will.
We must not, however, slump into apathy: we must be sober (in the sense of self-controlled) and alert (1 Peter 5:8). We have a very real fight with a very real enemy (Job 2:1-6), who like a lion would literally swallow us whole given half a chance. Our legal adversary is a malicious opponent (Zechariah 3:1), but if we cast our cares upon God then the ‘accuser of the brethren’ will in his turn be cast down once and for all (Revelation 12:10).
Jesus has already defeated the devil on the cross of Calvary, but this enemy is stubborn, and in a dangerous rage. We must fight with the weapons of faith, even the word of God, to the bitter end (1 Peter 5:9). In our own suffering we share in the accomplishment of the afflictions of our brothers and sisters in Christ here on earth.
In the benediction towards the end of this letter, Peter reminds us of God’s grace, of our calling, and of the eternal glory which is ours in Christ Jesus (1 Peter 5:10). The Apostle prays for a happy issue out of all our afflictions - that after we have suffered a “little while” we should be perfected, established, strengthened and set upon a firm foundation. And on that note we can only return praise to God:
“To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:11).